“Some of the rumors I see floating around seem to be accompanied by the words ‘breaking’ or ‘confirmed’ or ‘urgent’ all in capital letters,” he said. “I think it’s partially because you’ve got people on the ground in the Middle East hearing information and they’ve very excited about getting it, or feel like it needs to be out there as quickly as possible. They start using phrases that reporters use but they are using them in a very different way.”
When he sees these terms used, Carvin often replies and asks for additional details, for pictures and video. Or he will quote the tweet and add a simple one word question to the front of the message: Source?
That query is now something of a trademark for Carvin on Twitter. (He even uses it to engage in lighthearted self-mockery.) The source of information is a constant concern and cause of conflict for him.
“Some of these folks are working to actively overthrow their local regimes,” he said. “I just have to be aware of that at all times. Perhaps the answer is transparency, so a certain person might be giving me good information but I should never forget that they are part of the opposition.”
Carvin’s conundrum is that, on the one hand, he sees a problem with people misusing journalistic terms because, through no fault of their own, they lack basic reporting skills. On the other hand, he wonders how far he can go in educating and help them.
“I have a lot of people who say, ‘look, we’re not trained to be journalists, we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re just finding stuff and seeing stuff and we want to get it out there,’” he said. “I’ve had people actually say to me, ‘Can you teach us how to do this?’”
Carvin’s followers are the engine that drives his reporting. They help him translate, triangulate, and track down key information. They enable remarkable acts of crowdsourced verification, such as when they helped Carvin debunk reports about Israeli munitions in Libya. But they are by definition a slice of the population, an inexact (though curated) collection. They are people he has come to respect and admire; but he must always tell himself to check and challenge what he is told.
“On the one hand I’d love for these sources to be more accurate and to not have us wasting each other’s time,” he said. “But at the same time, am I aiding them in any way that is inappropriate to journalistic ethics? It’s the whole notion of, does teaching people to be better reporters cross the line? I’m not necessarily convinced that it does, but it’s a conversation worth having.
“Am I aiding them or am I making them better sources?” he asked. “It’s probably a bit of both.”
Correction of the Week
“The Post incorrectly attributed a quote to Toni Braxton in an article published on March 25. Braxton did not say: ‘I have a big-ass house, three cars and I fly first class all around the world. Some say I have the perfect life.’” - New York Post